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Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend will not have reason to regret his decision. He is speaking eloquently to new clause 1, and I hope that it will warm the cockles of his heart to learn that only this morning I received three letters from constituents vigorously urging me to support his Bill.
Mr. Brazier: I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, although the organisation that would be set up under new clause 1 would face the risk that my Bill attempts to remove. I might say that it is always a wise decision to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), not only because I work for him in another capacity but because he invariably hits the nail on the head. Colleagues from both sides of the House are writing to me and telephoning my office because their constituents have contacted them.
The amendments in this group go to the heart of the way in which we should tackle these emergencies. It is no good just recognising the excellent work done by
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voluntary organisations. We need to bring them into the planning framework and introduce a new reserve to assist them. I urge the House to support all the amendments.
Mr. Llwyd: I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said and thought that the contribution of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson) was very sensible. If we are serious about involving the voluntary sectoras we would have to in the circumstances that we are discussingwe should give it statutory recognition for its important work and include it in planning. We should not forget that many of those who gave evidence to the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee were from the voluntary sector.
I cannot understand how the Minister can pay warm tribute to the voluntary sector but also cut it out of the scene. It does not make sense and I hope that the Government will think again, even at this late stage. The amendments are sensible and would improve the Bill. I recall that, in Committee, we discussed the civil contingency reaction force and the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) said that the Government hoped to establish a complement of 7,000 but that at the timetowards the end of Januaryonly 5,000 had been trained and accredited. Can the Minister tell us whether that figure has improved? We should not forget, of course, that many of those people are already serving in other theatres.
Mr. Djanogly: I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) said in his informed and important speech on the need to use the full resources of the nation, rather than just the full resources of the state, when it comes to national emergencies. I fully support the suggestion of an emergency volunteer reserve to make full use of the pool of talent that we have. However, I was spurred to speak this afternoon by a letter from the British Red Cross that I am sure that other hon. Members have received and that also bears the names of the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, the Salvation Army and St. John Ambulance. It makes several significant points that made me realise the importance of the amendments.
The letter refers to the explosion in the plastics factory in Glasgow on 11 May, where, for more than three days, Salvation Army and Red Cross volunteers and staff provided emotional support and first aid at a reception centre set up in Maryhill community hall. It refers to the Morecambe bay cockle pickers tragedy, where the survivors were comforted by Red Cross volunteers who provided first aid treatment, blankets and clothing. The letter points out that, within 50 minutes of the Ladbroke Grove rail crash, St. John Ambulance had 32 volunteers and 11 ambulances on the scene and transported 22 people to hospital. For the following seven days, volunteers provided a 24-hour mobile treatment centre for workers at the site. The organisations were also involved after the terrible fire at the Yarlswood centre for asylum seekers in Bedfordshire, which is close to my constituency. The WRVS played an important role in
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providing food and comfort to the survivors andimportantlyto the fire workers and other emergency service personnel involved. The importance of the voluntary sector is not only the help provided to victims but the assistance to primary emergency workers. In that way, the volunteers become part of the primary team.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that, for international disasters and other such scenarios, we are keen to include NGOs such as the Red Cross in the planning phase? Why are the Government so willing to make use of voluntary organisations for the delivery of international relief, but not when there is a crying need for them in this country?
Mr. Djanogly: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I shall refer later to the experience in Madrid and try to answer his question, although of course I do not have one, so it might be for the Minister to address his concerns when she replies.
"In situations like these, volunteers help to absorb the impact a disaster makes on victims and their families. They are local, community-minded, ordinary people who give aid in extraordinary circumstances. Local authorities and emergency services turn to such volunteers knowing that they can provide comfort, emotional and practical support when most needed, yet there is no formal mechanism to involve the voluntary sector in the planning for emergency response . . . The Civil Contingencies Bill has presented the ideal opportunity to formalise arrangements by specifically including the voluntary sector in the legislation".
"Within minutes of the bomb explosions on the terrible morning of 11th March, Spanish Red Cross volunteers were on the scene. Over the following 24 hours and beyond . . . 900 volunteers provided medical care, psychological support, and handled enquiries from the public.
52 ambulances, 26 transport vehicles and mobile blood collection units run by the Spanish Red Cross worked in close collaboration with the statutory services.
Volunteers supported many bereaved families as they went to identify the bodies of their loved ones.
61 requests for information on missing persons were received from abroad and dealt with through the International Red Cross Message and Tracing service."
"The Spanish Red Cross was able to make such an exemplary response to this tragedy because in Spain the voluntary sector has a formal role in the civil protection framework. The Spanish voluntary sector plays an integral part in emergency planning and is designated to be involved in rescue, medical care, information and communication, and emotional support".
As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson) rightly said, the support provided in such a situation goes beyond emotional support, making tea and giving comfort. Voluntary organisations have many specialist skills. The British Red Cross gives the following examples:
"Information services, clothing and shelter, first aid and medical care, comforting and befriending of individuals affected, staffing rest and reception centres, support to hospitals, support to ambulance services, search and rescue, transport services, message and tracing services for those who have lost contact with loved ones in an emergency overseas, radio communications, faith and cultural support and awareness."
"As key providers of emotional and practical support to victims and their families, the voluntary sector is united in calling for formal, explicit recognition of the contribution of the voluntary sector in emergency planning and response on the face of the Civil Contingencies Bill.
A duty should be placed on statutory authorities to involve the voluntary sector fully in emergency planning and response.
An acknowledgement of the voluntary sector's contribution will formalise an already active response.
Without the involvement of the voluntary sector in emergency planning and response, the response to the human dimension of an emergency may be less effectively addressed."
Why have the Government marginalised the contribution of the voluntary sector in the Bill? It cannot be on the ground of cost, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newark said earlier. It cannot be on the ground of the voluntary sector's ability, which is well proven. It cannot be in terms of its commitment, which is exemplary.
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